Deer Lakes focused on limiting errors, strikeouts in PIAA quarterfinals
Deer Lakes' softball team put up gaudy offensive statistics during the regular season, but some less-flashy numbers loom as the team enters the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals for the second straight season.
Namely, 21 strikeouts and five errors — the unusual output from its last two playoff games.
Still, the Lancers (19-1) remain in the hunt for a state championship. But coach Craig Taliani knows they need to take a squeegee to the unclean play as they enter Thursday's PIAA Class AA quarterfinals against Philipsburg-Osceola (22-1) at Bedford High School.
“Especially the errors,” Taliani said. “That's not like us. Now, we know one-inning's worth of stringing a few runs together can fix that. But we can't give teams extra outs.”
WPIAL runner-up Deer Lakes averaged one error per game during the regular season. Two in one game was rare. But in the championship game, the creaky wheel fell off and it committed four.
The miscues led to four unearned runs in a 5-1 loss to Riverside (20-0), which got 11 strikeouts from senior pitcher Kirsten Wilson at California (Pa.) University.
The PIAA opener against Fairview on Monday in Erie was mostly crisp for the Lancers' defensive unit. There was just one error this time, on a spinning grounder to third, as Deer Lakes won, 3-0.
“That ball came down like a Roger Federer forehand,” Taliani said. “It was a tough play.
“I'm just so proud of the way they responded (after the WPIAL title-game loss). They could have easily packed it in.”
The team apparently has thrown that game away like old bubble gum.
“We feel like we have put that game behind us,” Deer Lakes junior first baseman Sierra “CiCi” Sarver said. “We're on a whole new journey.”
A cleaner effort in the field during the next round could help ease the tension at the plate.
Deer Lakes has fanned 25 times in the playoffs, but it also has produced 39 hits, including 11 for extra bases.
Fairview pitcher Raven Rozantz struck out 10.
“We need to put more balls in play,” Taliani said. “We can't be whiffing at it. Most of the strikeouts have been swinging, though, so it's not like we're standing there watching it.”
Deer Lakes is only in the state playoffs for the second time. It won its PIAA debut last season against Wilmington, 5-4, before falling to Martinsburg Central, 4-2, in the quarterfinals.
Four-time defending District 6 champion Philipsburg-Osceola (22-1), whose only loss came to Class AAAA Central Mountain, 7-6, on April 22, is a perennial state contender. The Mounties won PIAA titles in 2011 and 2007.
In 2011, P-O topped WPIAL-champion Burrell, 5-0, in the semifinals.
“It looks like a pretty even matchup,” Deer Lakes senior catcher Hannah Blinn said. “Our hitting needs cleaned up. I think the girls who stay around (at practice) and take the extra swings will see the difference.”
Like Deer Lakes, Philipsburg-Osceola has a strong-hitting lineup, from top to bottom. The Mounties also hit for power, with 20 home runs.
Standout shortstop Abby Showers, a sophomore, is hitting .565 with five homers and 30 RBI.
Pitcher Kate Burge is 19-0 and struck out 10 during a three-hitter against Chartiers-Houston in the first round.
Deer Lakes sophomore pitcher Tiffany Edwards, who has 27 wins in two seasons, was effective in the first-round win, a three-hitter. She also tripled and drove in two runs.
Sophomore second baseman Katie Gozzard is Deer Lakes' leading hitter in the postseason. She is 7 for 14 in four postseason games and also is hitting .500 for the season. That includes a 4-for-5, five-RBI showing against McGuffey in the quarterfinals.
Deer Lakes has five players hitting. 340 or better. Blinn is batting .469 with 35 RBI.
Both teams have eight shutouts this season.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.